Conservation Diary — Day 8

Nicole Gilroy writes…

As we have looked closely at the edges of the book, we have noticed that there is a break in the textblock: this is usually caused by a split in the sewing or spine linings or adhesive.

A clear break in the  kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

A clear break in the kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

It is common to see this in the middle of a book, and we have been wondering when this damage occurred, and if it is getting worse, as we thought it might be after going through the book leaf by leaf.

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

Yet again, the photographic record of the condition of the book soon after its return to the Bodleian has come to our aid: this time the photograph taken to show the original position of the book in Duke Humfrey’s library, fore-edge out as it would have been chained, clearly shows the ridge along the fore-edge demonstrating that the text-block break had already happened at that point.

The original position of the volume

The volume (marked with an X) in its original position in Duke Humfrey’s Library, showing the text-block break as a ridge in the lower fore-edge. Photo taken soon after the book’s return to the library in the early 20th century.

The edges of the book tell us more than just the condition of the sewing. There are some distinctive ripples along the edges that have made us think a little more about how it was bound.

We know from the size of the leaves that very little was trimmed from the edges, but the edges were certainly trimmed slightly and sprinkled red, though this has now faded and worn.

The edges of a book could have been trimmed in one of two ways in the 17th century: with a draw-knife (a hand-held two-handled knife); or with the relatively new invention, the plough (which involved setting the book up in a horizontal press and running a blade in a jig along the edges creating a neater trim).

The edge of the book

The edge of the book, with possible evidence of trimming using a draw-knife

The rippled edges of the First Folio, with their slight horizontal scoops, suggest that the quicker (therefore cheaper) method of the draw-knife may have been used, perhaps hinting at a more workaday binding rather than an expensive one. This, in combination with the evidence of less-than-perfect paper selection makes us think that this book was not quite the luxury item we might have thought it was.

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